With China having positioned itself as a true economic powerhouse, Australian businesses are increasingly claiming their stake in the country’s future.
That growth is exactly why Austrade has established 12 offices in the country, with 115 staff – including in Shanghai. By 2030, the Chinese government hopes to build Shanghai into an innovation hub, and even created a new type of business visa in 2018 to help reach that goal.
But working in China is no easy task, and businesses should know what they’re gearing up for. Tenderfield senior executive Brian Pong says startups should carefully prepare for working life in China.
In particular, Pong – who is also the director of Tenderfield Hong Kong – says attending a 90-day residency through Austrade’s Landing Pads program can set businesses up for success.
SmartCompany: What can Austrade Landing Pads participants expect from their 90-day residency?
Brian Pong: The Shanghai Landing Pad is located at coworking space XNode. We were provided with free office space, internet access and networking opportunities, while the participants have to take care of their own travel, accommodation and living expenses.
At the start of the program Austrade assigned me one of their staff members, who has relevant industry experience (in my case construction) as my mentor. Xnode also assigned a well-connected staff member to work closely with both of us, which forms a mini taskforce to work over the 90 days.
The taskforce helped by making introductions and lined up meetings with contractors, architects and local design institutes so I could understand their processes in great detail.
Next was the structural learning component delivered by the two service providers of Austrade.
The first was a one-week intensive Chinese business bootcamp offered by an inbound business support company. It specialises in diverse management and operational services for foreign companies doing business in China, including consultancy, HR management, dispute resolutions, sales management, logistics management, marketing, branding and even financial management.
The bootcamp is basically a crash course teaching us how to do business in China covering technical topics from business registration, employment law, taxation, IP protection, to important social knowledge such as common work ethics, demographics, and management of cultural differences.
I personally found the bootcamp extremely valuable.
SC: How do other startups typically respond to the immersion in such a different culture?
BP: In business culture, I do see it as very different. I’ve heard numerous stories of people going into China and their website is copied. Although they think it’s a disadvantage, it can actually work for them.
One thing that quite shocked me, was I thought the Australian technology landscape was very advanced but when I got into China, I was shocked. The Alibaba payment gateway…payment and transactions go through immediately.
SC: How do other startups conquer the language and cultural barriers?
BP: I thought that the Chinese didn’t speak much English, but in Shanghai they are very diverse.
In China it’s all about building relationships face-to-face, and if you learn the language, the bond will be much stronger, and that would be the case for most businesses. But if your technology is so unique and so advanced that they can find no other replacement, of course you can still build a good relationship with them
It’s very multicultural, I can see lots of expatriates in Shanghai.
SC: What has the program made you think differently about?
BP: The program to me is a total transformation. Before the program we did not know enough to make informed decisions, and our knowledge about China is largely based on myths and conflicting internet research.
Doing business in China requires you to know more than just IP. The knowledge I gathered throughout the program totally transformed us. We simply did not know enough to make any decision about doing business in China, but are now in a more informed position to make decisions confidently. Moreover, execution of business decisions is arguably more important.
As I have built a trusted network of diverse business professionals, we can make any business decision today and straight away I would know who in China can help me. Being able to think differently is an understatement. Instead I see the Landing Pads program as an enabler to do successful business in China.
The Landing Pads program provides market-ready Australian startups and scaleups the opportunity to land and expand into major global innovation and startup ecosystems, including San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Berlin and Singapore.